The Coffee Can

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By Tank Hoover

I recently lost a good friend. Bill was a shift mate and fellow cop. Even though I didn’t see or hear from Bill on a regular basis, when we did occasionally bump into one another, we’d pick right back up where we left off. You know how it is with a good buddy…things just click right into place naturally, without skipping a beat.

When I first heard Bill talk, years ago in the roll call room of our station, I knew he was from central Pennsylvania, with that indistinguishable pronunciation of certain vowels. O’s are stretched out as awe’s, such as “dawer” and “pawp” for dollar and pop. You guy’s was “you’ns.” He was a die-hard hunter, like most Pennsylvanians and loved guns. He was proud of his Pennsylvania heritage, supporting everything from Hershey chocolate to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. He had the hats and jerseys for all of them.

Working midnights as patrol officers, we would meet up for a cup of coffee or “pawp” as Bill would say, and tell hunting stories, trying to stay awake at four or five in the morning, when the nights activities finally took a lull. These are the times cops bond with each other…

One of my favorite subjects Bill would talk about was his dad, “The Duke.” He was called “The Duke” because he was a dead ringer for John Wayne during his “True Grit” era. The Duke loved to hunt and fish too. He kept a small pack of beagles for chasing rabbits and fished every evening for trout in the Juniata River with crawfish he caught for bait, during the spring and summer.

Bill told me his dad loved firehouse gun raffles and was pretty lucky at them. He told me one year for Easter his dad called Bill and his other brothers into the living room and had them pick numbers. Each number represented a room. In each room was a different rifle The Duke had previously won in a raffle.

Bill won a Remington 760 in .308. I just loved hearing stories like that, that have so many stories within the story. It was a prime example of family and love intertwined with love of hunting, guns and family. Those stories just leave you feeling good inside.
I met the Duke when he would occasionally come down from Altoona for a visit and Ride-Along with Bill for a shift. The Duke was a retired railroad mechanic.

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Bill, and his police dog, Lambert (as in Jack Lambert from the Steelers).

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A Visit To Duke

When my Pap had by-pass surgery in Altoona General, Bill told me to stop in and say “hi” to his dad when I went up to check on my Pap. It was a treat to say the least. I met some of his beagles, had a snack of pretzels, summer sausage with spicy mustard and a cold beer. The Duke brought out some frozen 20″ trout he had caught to show me. He was the real deal and I felt like I knew him all my life within 10 minutes of talking with him. Funny how that happens.

That’s how Bill was, too. Friendly demeanor, mischievous smile and he loved to good-naturedly tease and be teased, a Pennsylvanian trait for sure.

As time passed, Bill told me the Duke was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs, from working on the asbestos laden train brakes he worked on. Being “Duke” tough, the former Marine fought it with everything he had, hunting and fishing as much as he could, while fighting and ignoring his illness.

Bill told me when his dad was eventually bed-ridden and time was short, he told Bill there was a coffee can down in the basement, on a shelf. He told Bill there was money in the can and when the time came, to spend it to celebrate his life.

The Duke had squirreled away just over three thousand dollars and every penny was spent after the funeral at the local Legion Hall, where The Duke bought many rounds for many people, celebrating his life.

Last month was the first I had heard of Bill being sick too. Being typical Bill, he kept his illness silent, choosing to fight it on his own, without burdening anyone for help, even though he was always the first to lend a hand to help anyone else.

I called him and the once bulletproof Bill, who had tried out for the Baltimore Colts as a linebacker, great cop, husband, father and friend sounded weak and tired. When I asked how he was doing, Bill spun things quickly and asked how my deer season went. We talked hunting a tad, but I knew he was tired and I didn’t want to push him at all. I asked if there was anything I could do to help, anything and Bill simply said, “ No Jeff, you just go have a long retirement.”

Bill was going to retire this fall. He gave his all as a cop. He worked patrol, SWAT, Repeat offender section, and finally K-9. You always knew Bill had your back if you needed back-up.

Although my heart is heavy, my vision blurred by leaking eyes, I feel privileged and honored to have known Bill and call him friend. I will try my darndest to celebrate his life — but it is damned hard when you lose a good man like Bill.

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4 thoughts on “The Coffee Can

      1. Jeff Hoover

        Hi Katrina! Yes, I was at both the viewing and funeral. Both you and Nick did a wonderful job with your readings.
        I am impressed with the strength, poise and love the family all exhibited during such a trying time. Bill was indeed a very special man!

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